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**Please note that the following are summaries and do not, by any means, cover everything that can and does occur in a given bankruptcy case filing. The summaries are specific to rules and procedures followed in the Central District of California.  Moreover, it assumes that you are represented by an attorney, because it omits certain tasks and duties that will be performed throughout the process by your attorney.

Los Angeles Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Process

(Time from filing to discharge:  usually 4-5 months)

1.  Mandatory Credit Counseling

For cases filed after October 17, 2005, you must obtain a certificate from an approved credit counseling agency before you can file your case.  This costs between $0 and $50 and can usually be done quickly online.  Your attorney will provide you with information on how to obtain this counseling.

2. File Petition, Schedules, and Statement of Financial Affairs With the Court

When these documents, which you have signed under penalty of perjury, are filed with the Court, you will be assigned a case number and this commences your case.  In most cases, immediately upon filing your case, an injunction goes into effect stopping your creditors from taking any further action to collect or recover on any debt you owe without first getting permission from the bankruptcy court (which is only granted for specific purposes). This injunction is called the “automatic stay“.  For cases filed after October 17, 2005, the automatic stay is really “semi-automatic” because if you have a prior dismissed bankruptcy case in the past 12 months, or if certain other conditions are met, you may need to file a motion to get the court to impose the Stay.

3. Mandatory meeting with the Trustee

This occurs about one month after your case is filed. It is often referred to as the section “341(a) Meeting.” It is a very simple meeting usually and only lasts a couple of minutes per debtor.  See more details about this meeting.

The Trustee is an independent person appointed automatically in all Chapter 7 cases by the United States Trustee’s Office (an administrative branch of the U.S. Department of Justice). The Trustee’s role is to liquidate (meaning, turn into cash) any non-exempt assets you have. The Trustee then distributes those funds to your creditors according to their statutory priority in the bankruptcy code. The Trustee also monitors your case and will refer any incidences of fraud to the F.B.I. The Trustee can also object to the granting of discharge in your case if he/she believes your case was not filed in good faith (such as you have too much excess income to file a Chapter 7) or if you have committed fraud in connection with your petition and schedules.

Most assets are exempt up to a certain amount. You should check with your attorney as to which, if any, of your assets are subject to being taken by the Trustee.

The Trustee does not represent you and the Trustee does not represent any creditor in your case.

4. Time for Objections By Creditors and Trustee

Your creditors have until 60 days after the date first set for your meeting with the Trustee to file a complaint objecting to the discharge of their debt, or to your entire discharge (see above). Grounds for doing this include fraud (such as incurring charges on a credit card that you did not intend or have the reasonable ability to repay at the time they were made), false statements on a credit application, fraud while acting in a fiduciary capacity, willful or malicious injury to a person or property of a person, and certain others. Creditors can seek an extension of time to file their complaint, but as long as they received notice of your bankruptcy case, they must either file their complaint, or a motion requesting an extension prior to the expiration of the 60-day period.

In most cases no objections are filed. However, if a creditor does file a complaint, there will be a trial. You will need to consult with an attorney at that point to decide whether you wish to defend the action, settle it, or just let it go to default judgment. Usually, the matter can be settled or even pre-empted.

The Trustee has until 30 days after the date first set for your meeting with him/her to file an objection to any exemptions you have claimed. Again, this is rare, but it can happen depending on the specific exemptions you need to use in your case. You should consult with your attorney about the likelihood of this happening in your case.

5.  Financial Management Course

For cases filed after 10/17/05, you are required to complete a financial management course before receiving your discharge.    In Chapter 7 cases, you must have completed this course (usually about 2 hours) and submitted the certificate of completion to the court no later than 45 days after the date first set for your meeting with the Trustee.  If you fail to do this, you will NOT get a discharge.  This course can also be done over the internet or by phone, and costs between $19 and $50.

6.  Discharge

The moment you’ve been waiting for! If nobody objects to your discharge within the 60 day period referenced above, and you have completed all the other requirements, then you will automatically get your Notice of Discharge in the mail shortly thereafter (usually within 2-6 weeks after expiration of the 60-day period). This notice basically provides that you are discharged from all dischargeable debts. Certain debts are not dischargeable, such as child support, alimony, certain taxes, student loans, and some others. If you are uncertain as to which of your debts will be discharged, you should consult with your attorney.

The discharge applies to all dischargeable debts which you scheduled in your bankruptcy papers and which received notice of your bankruptcy filing. If a creditor did not receive notice, they MAY be able to reopen your case and still challenge the discharge of their debt later on. Whether they can do this depends on a number of factors, including what the basis of their discharge objection is, whether assets were distributed in your case, and a few others.

It is important to understand that the discharge has nothing to do with the Trustee’s obligation to liquidate (i.e. sell) any non-exempt assets that you may have. Your case can remain open for years after your discharge if the Trustee is taking actions on any of your assets or seeking to recover preferential payments you may have made to creditors.

**Please note that the above are summaries and do not, by any means, cover everything that can and does occur in a given bankruptcy case filing. The summaries are specific to rules and procedures followed in the Central District of California.  Moreover, it assumes that you are represented by an attorney, because it omits certain tasks and duties that will be performed throughout the process by your attorney.

Los Angeles Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Process

(Time from filing to discharge: usually about 64 months, but depends on plan length)

1. Mandatory Credit Counseling

For cases filed after October 17, 2005, you must obtain a certificate from an approved credit counseling agency before you can file your case. This costs anywhere from $0-$50 and can usually be done quickly online. Your attorney will provide you with information on how to obtain this counseling. A copy of any payment plan devised by the counseling service must also be filed with the court.

2. File Petition, Schedules, Tax Returns, and Statement of Financial Affairs and Plan With the Court

When these documents, which you have signed under penalty of perjury, are filed with the Court, you will be assigned a case number and this commences your case. You must file all tax returns that were required to be filed for the 4 years prior to filing your case.
In most cases, immediately upon filing your case an injunction goes into effect stopping your creditors from taking any further action to collect or recover on any debt you owe without first getting permission from the bankruptcy court (which is only granted for specific purposes). This injunction is called the “automatic stay”. For cases filed after October 17, 2005, the automatic stay is really “semi-automatic” because if you have a prior bankruptcy case that was dismissed in the past 12 months, or if certain other conditions are met, you may need to file a motion to get the court to impose the Stay.

3. Your Chapter 13 Repayment PLAN

In Chapter 13, along with all your other papers, you file a “Plan” of repayment with your creditors. To get your plan approved, it must provide for all of the following:

A. You are paying ALL of your “projected disposable income” into the plan for a minimum of 36 months, and a maximum of 60 months. The length of the term depends on numerous factors. Disposable income is defined as your “current monthly income” (which is an average of all income received in the 6 calendar months prior to filing your case, excluding social security income and child support payments reasonably necessary for the support of the child) minus your reasonable and necessary living expenses based on standards set forth by the Internal Revenue Service for your district. If your income for the 6 month period is higher than the median income for your state, your plan term must be 60 months.
B. Your creditors will receive no less than they would receive if you did a Chapter 7 liquidation. In other words, if you have assets which are not fully exempt, then you need to pay out at least that amount over the term of your Plan.

C. Certain creditors must be paid 100% through your Plan, so you must have sufficient disposable income to be able to do this in the required time frame. Examples of creditors needing to be paid 100% are: Mortgage arrearages, taxes less than 3 years old, past due child support or alimony and others.

Assuming you meet the above (and certain other) requirements, your Plan can theoretically pay anywhere from zero to one-hundred percent to your general unsecured creditors.

4. Mandatory meeting with the Trustee

This occurs about 4-6 weeks after your case is filed. It is often referred to as the section “341(a) Meeting.” See more about this meeting.

Depending on your situation, these meetings in Chapter 13 cases can take quite a bit of time, as they are significantly more involved than in Chapter 7 cases. The Trustee will analyze your bankruptcy papers and the information contained therein. Also, you are required to prove the income you set forth on your bankruptcy papers. For most, this means providing recent paycheck stubs. For self-employed people, this means showing prior years’ tax returns and bank deposit slips (or statements).

The Trustee’s role in a Chapter 13 case is at first to make sure that you are filing your case in “good faith” and that your monthly plan payment is as high as possible, so as to maximize the benefit to your creditors. Once your Plan is confirmed by the court, however, the Trustee generally wants to see you succeed because that’s how the Trustee gets paid (by disbursing your monthly payments to your creditors).

The Trustee does not represent you and the Trustee does not represent any creditor in your case.

5. Objections to your Plan

Your creditors are, of course, able to object to your plan on the grounds set forth above, as well as others (if they can show it wasn’t proposed in good faith, the amounts are insufficient, etc.). Times for objection vary depending on a variety of factors, but generally all objections must be made prior to the confirmation hearing, and usually prior to the meeting with your Trustee.

6. Claims of your creditors

Your unsecured creditors are required to file “proofs of claim” with the court in order to be paid from your Plan. As you might imagine, frequently these claims are for higher amounts than you put in your bankruptcy papers. This can often cause your proposed plan to become infeasible and necessitates that your attorney object to these claims (assuming grounds exist for doing so). Generally your creditors have 90 days following the first meeting date with the Trustee to file their claims. Taxing agencies have longer to file their claims.

7. Plan Confirmation Hearing

At some point after your meeting with the Trustee, the court will hold a hearing on confirmation of your Plan. In some jurisdictions this occurs on the same day as your meeting with the Trustee. In most courts, however, it will occur a month or more after your Trustee’s meeting (in some courts it can be as many as 8 or 9 months later). Often the Plan confirmation hearing gets continued in order to allow you to amend your plan or take other necessary steps to make it feasible or to deal with objections (by the Trustee or creditors) or other issues that arise.

8. Your Chapter 13 Plan Payments

Your monthly proposed plan payments are first due 30 days after your case is filed and then continue for the duration of your plan. Your attorney will explain to you when, where and how to make these payments. If you miss any payments required prior to your Plan being confirmed by the court, your case will be dismissed and you will lose the protection of the bankruptcy Stay. Additionally, you must maintain all normal monthly payments to any secured creditors you have (such as mortgages, car payments, etc.) if you intend to retain the collateral on which those debts are secured, and on taxes or other debts which come due after filing. A failure to maintain or stay current on such payments during the pendency of your Chapter 13 case can result in the loss of the asset and dismissal of your case.

9. Ongoing Chapter 13 Duties

Once your plan is confirmed by the court, you simply need to make the required payments for the duration of your plan. However, you must provide the Trustee in your case a copy of your subsequent tax returns that come due and are filed during your plan term and provide annual updated income and expense statements.

10. Discharge

Once you have completed all the required payments due under your plan, the Trustee will start to process your discharge. This usually takes several months to complete after receipt of your final payment. YOU ARE NOT DISCHARGED FROM ANY DEBTS UNTIL YOU RECEIVE THE DISCHARGE ORDER FROM THE COURT. If you are curing a mortgage default, your loan is not reinstated until all payments have been received as required under the plan by that creditor.
For cases filed after 10/17/05, you are required to complete a financial management course before receiving your discharge. In Chapter 7 cases, you must have completed this course (usually about 2 hours) and submitted the certificate of completion to the court no later than 45 days after the date first set for your meeting with the Trustee. If you fail to do this, you will NOT get a discharge. This course can also be done over the internet or by phone, and costs between $19 and $50.